Roxbury resident Mary Holmes and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) have reached an agreement this week settling a civil rights lawsuit alleging that Ms. Holmes was brutally beaten and arrested by MBTA officers for speaking out to prevent them from abusing a person in her community. The settlement requires payments to Ms. Holmes and her attorneys, increased transparency for MBTA policies, and improvements in the citizen complaint system. The settlement also confirms policy changes that the MBTA made while the lawsuit was pending, which sought to enhance their systems and policies to monitor MBTA officer behavior and provide aggression management training.

In March 2014, Ms. Holmes was at the Dudley Square MBTA station in Roxbury when she saw Officer Jennifer Garvey scream at and shove another Black woman. The situation worried Ms. Holmes so she tried to calm the woman and asked Officer Garvey to stop being so aggressive. When these efforts failed, she called 9-1-1 for help. In response, Officer Garvey and her partner, Officer Alfred Trinh, pepper-sprayed Ms. Holmes in the face, beat her with a metal baton, and arrested her, handcuffing her hands behind her back while forcing her to the ground.

With the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Law Offices of Howard Friedman as her counsel, Ms. Holmes filed a lawsuit in 2015 against Officers Garvey and Trinh. Ms. Holmes added the MBTA and one of Officer Garvey’s supervisors as defendants in 2016, after learning that the transit agency had allowed a policy to develop within its police department of failing to properly supervise, investigate and discipline its officers.

“There was a severe lack of accountability,” said Carl Williams, staff attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Officer Garvey had a history of complaints that were regularly ignored. Police departments must police their own officers. That is what Ms. Holmes’ case is all about.”

After Ms. Holmes filed her lawsuit, the MBTA enhanced their systems and policies to monitor officer behavior and provide aggression management training. The superintendent must review all excessive use of force citizen complaints, every such complaint will trigger a request for all available video evidence, and all MBTA police officers must undergo at least 4 hours of “Management of Aggressive Behavior” training. In addition, the MBTA will now post their use of force and several other policies online, and make it easier for civilians to file police complaints.

“Civilian complaints about police violence must be taken seriously,” said Howard Friedman. “To prevent officers from acting with impunity, there needs to be real oversight and real consequences. We are pleased to see the MBTA take steps in that direction.”

“I saw something, I said something, and I was beaten and arrested for it,” said Ms. Holmes. “Hopefully, these policy changes will act as a deterrent and help ensure that no one else has to go through what I went through.”

View the joint statement from the ACLU of Massachusetts and the MBTA here.

Learn more about the case Holmes v. Garvey.

watch our video about the case here

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